Baby P: The Untold Story. BBC 1 directed by Henry Singer


August 2007, Peter Connelly, a cherubic, 17-month old, blond-haired, blue eyed boy was unlawfully killed. He was beaten to death. Among other injuries he suffered were broken ribs, a broken back and a missing finger tip. His mother and her boyfriend and boyfriend’s brother were found guilty of those crimes. This is not the story about the 260 children that have died since then. Twenty-six of them known to the local authorities. Or the story of the five to ten familial homicides every week.  This is the story of a Salem type- media frenzy in which social workers and care staff became national hate figures. 1.2 million signatures were delivered to Number Ten Downing Street by The Sun – I almost called it a newspaper – urging the government to take action and sack social work staff. After 26 days and 1.4 million voices it announced the success of this strategy. Death threats were made. Sharon Shoesmith, director of child services with Haringey Council was sacked. Her daughters were also targeted and moved to a safe place by the police. Marie Ward the social worker directly involved with the case never returned to the house she had lived in – it was no longer safe. Gillie Christou, social work team leader was named and shamed. The consultant paediatrician Dr Zaybaht, who examined Peter, was vilified with headlines and vitriol like ‘Paki go home’, and ‘Towelhead’. A Muslim woman,  and a qualified doctor of medicine, it seemed a step too far for a xenophobic British public to take. After attempting suicide she did go ‘home’.

The lead for this kind of narrative came from the leader of the opposition, David Cameron. It is a sackable offence to knowingly tell a lie in the House of Commons, but Cameron managed a few in his brief foray into the debate. His narrative line was quite simple. Here was a 17-year old woman on benefits (she was 28) living with her boyfriend, Stephen Bartlett, who was illiterate (?) and would you believe it? Haringey Council, the same council that had failed Victoria Climbie had received £100 million of government money, every year (that’s a very precise figure, rounded up, no doubt by Tory inflation). Cameron asked, what was the government going to do about?  But, of course, he wasn’t really asking. He was scoring political points.

Ed Balls representing the government. Kim Holt representing Great Ormond Street Hospital and its subsidiary care unit St Anne’s were Patrick was examined; Ofsted, initially, compiled a report given Haringey a rating of 3, the equivalent of a gold star, subsequently, oh dear, somehow lost that report and downgrade it to 1, which means social services were in crisis –which they were, as all social work departments always are; The Metropolitan Police who failed to take any kind of forensic documentation of the child’s injuries, or to notice that Baby P had a new ‘stepdad’, but, oh dear, that was social work’s fault. Look over there, it wasn’t us guv. The politicians, the police and the media had found the culprits. Social Workers. Burn them. A simplistic narrative often catches fire, better than any attempts at the truth.

Two things worth considering. Sharon Shoesmith has been unable to work since then. But she received a six-figure sum for unfair dismissal. An unnamed whistle-blower told how the Ofsted inspectorate tampered with official documents. A consultant paediatrician who had made allegations of systemic failure and a lack of support at St Anne’s was offered £150 000 by Great Ormond Street Hospital, basically to shut up. Worst of all. David Cameron is now Prime Minister, no doubt children don’t die on his watch.

John Lanchester (2014) How to Speak Money.


john lanchesterNot many people read dictionaries, especially, a dictionary of money-talk that will be out of date by the time it gets to print, but I was always a bit weird. One of the few and therefore scarce O’grades I got was in the ‘dismal science’ of economics. I got a B grade. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. I know you’re secretly impressed. I was surprised. I’ll tell you my secret: if it wasn’t supply; it was demand. I could even pontificate about elasticity: elasticity is when something is not inelastic. I was good on the laws of diminishing return. It was always a farmer’s field and planting crops and well, you’ve watched The Waltons, you know what happens next. John Boy comes out with a piece of folksy wisdom and in a good year he gets a new hat.  Economics is about telling stories. Recently I personally experienced the law of diminishing returns. At one level I attempted to sell the same story –Lily Poole – to the same people again and again.  Chances of that happen diminish with each frantic effort. The people that buy have already bought. One of the problems of classical economics is it assumes – among other things – that the seller will have perfect knowledge of the market. I look across and in the next field Lavadis and Ewan are also selling the same product, but they are having three and four times the success rate I’m having. I don’t know how that happened. I have imperfect knowledge. But I want to move into their field and bring down their margins of success while boosting mine. Most folk do. In the pub I conducted a quick survey of who had perfect knowledge. I got two ‘Yes’ votes. Three ‘No’ votes and two ‘Fuck off’ votes. ‘Fuck off’ ties with ‘Yes’ and that’s how economics works.

Lets look at ‘paradis fiscaux’ before looking at the mucky letter ‘r’.   You’re probably thinking ‘Jo le taxi’ and Vanessa Paradis. That’s how I didn’t get an A-grade in that O’ level all those years ago. Paradix fiscaux is just a fancy way of saying to poor people, fuck off, we’re not paying taxes. We live in Paradis-fiscaux land and if Vanessa lives there all the better for us.

Our beloved Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher put it quite plainly. ‘Nations depend for their health, economically, culturally and psychologically upon the achievements of a comparatively small number of talented and determined people.’

The Wealth of Nations will trickle down to those who don’t really deserve it, but there are a number of economic tools to help them adjust. ‘Reducing payroll – sacking people’. ‘Redundancy –sacking people’. ‘Reform –sacking people’ and making those that stay more productive, which generally means working longer hours for less money and foregoing luxuries such as being sick, wanting a holiday or worrying about pension plans. ‘Rent’ is an interesting word. It’s unproductive, yet it drives the money and housing market. ‘It is an attempt to take a bigger piece of the existing pie rather than make the pie bigger’. The Shards and glass-fronted tower blocks of Central London are the flagships of rent-seeking behaviour, and banks like RBS are the privateers that sail on a sea of finance. The UK taxpayer, of course, owns ‘82% of RBS, and at the time of writing is sitting on a loss of £15 billion’. The Government couldn’t let such banks sink and I dare  not speak its name, has nationalised the big four banks.

A comparatively small number of talented and determined people have smashed the global economy, which since 2008 has resulted in world-wide depression, and this governments answer has been more or the same, more of the four ‘r’s. Let’s look at risk. Perhaps we better not. Sometimes it’s better not knowing.  The rich get rich. The poor get poorer. That’s one constant. Perhaps it’s best to end with an old joke ‘Well, that works in practice, but let’s go and see if it works in theory.’


Michael Cannon (2014) Articles of Faith

I admit to googling Michael Cannon to see if I knew him. He comes from the West of Scotland and has had a wide variety of jobs (snap), wasn’t very good at school (snap), has written a couple of novels (well I’ve kinda) and they’ve been published. Snap out of it. I don’t know the lucky bastard, but I have read his book.

What attracted me to Articles of Faith wasn’t the author but the subject. The narrative setting in my hometown Clydebank, a place I often use as a backdrop for my stories. It’s written in the present tense, which is perhaps surprising as it opens before the Second World War with launching of a ship on the Clyde, ‘thirty thousand tons of blunt keel and angular superstructure’. The war is finished, the need for secrecy gone, why not name the ship? (RMS Queen Elizabeth). Similarly, the setting of tenement life is sketched in broad strokes. Deborah Neavis is standing, ‘in the pose of a letter K’ with her son Michael balance on her hip. ‘Her block is one of a number, like clay furrows, the red sandstone drinking in the light’.  This is good descriptive prose. Good scene setting, but suffers from repetition and the sharp image of the pose of a letter K is repeated twice and loses its lustre.

The author uses an omniscient narrator which flits in and out of the heads of several of the main protagonists and their families that live near the yard and on the Clyde. It’s a poor working-class district and something of a Catholic ghetto. Again I’d have liked the author to be more specific. There was a loosely linked blocks of tenement houses and model-lodgings for working men centring around Dumbarton Road and the Whitecrook area known as the Bisley. Why not just say that? Similarly, the first Parish priest, Father Delaney, whom the reader is introduced to in the opening pages, lives in an unspecified church house with his housekeeper, Mrs Quigley. Why not use the available backdrop of Our Holy Redeemers’ church and school? Father Delaney is, by his own admission, not particularly good man. In contrast, Deborah’s husband Stephen is portrayed as the stalwart salt-of-the earth protagonist seen in, for example, William McIlvanney’s Docherty. Parachuted into this setting is the saintly Polish Jacek Tomaszewkski, who has a doctorate in maths. He is the only male teacher in the local (unspecified) primary school, (apart from the headmaster, of course, who is always male and never a Pole). Jacek sees everything, even that Clydebank is not adequately prepared for the German bombing raids, which will come (he like the narrator has omniscient powers) and, he also warns Father Paolo, that replaced the old Parish priest, about the only teacher in the school that worries him, the spinster Miss Herne.

‘Some in the staff room are stupid and at least one is bigoted. But Miss Herne in her way is neither. She’s not biased towards any one person or group. Her discrimination is almost total. And she’s far more dangerous than any of them.’

Jacek is not the only stranger in the ghetto’s midst. Far stranger flowers are the beauty and the beast twins of Georgina (Gig) and Campbell Renton. The latter is ugly, even in streets were ugliness is usually not worth remarking upon, but has brute strength and no little intelligence. It is Gig, however, that Miss Herne covets as an acolyte. A glowing pubescent beauty in a dung heap is a rare thing, especially as the children’s father Alan is a Protestant and a loathsome thing that seeks three things, his fags, his booze and an opportunistic fuck and is quite willing to use his children as markers to get what he wants.

bisley clydebankComparisons must be made between Miss Herne and Jean Brodie in her prime. Muriel Spark, however, attained no little grace, and classic status almost immediately, upon realise of her Magnum opus. Michael Cannon will have to wait a bit longer.


Shirley Jackson ‘The Lottery and Other Stories’

Shirley Jackson, The Lottery and Other Stories, is published by Penguin Classics.  That can mean the book is quite old. It does seem to be, with the stories I’ve read so far being set in post-Second World War America, or it could mean a guarantee of quality. An imprint that says – this is really good.

The book is in five sections, with short stories in each section. I’ve finished section one and started on section two. My feeling was of claustrophobia. This was small town American life squeezed between the pages. In the opening story, ‘The Intoxicated’, for example, a drunk is at a party. He knows his way around the house, but is taking a breather from all that merriment and the daughter of the party-giver, half his age comes and sits with him. That’s the story, more or less. I was waiting for more.

The second story ‘The Daemon Lover’ is good. If I had a big red marker pen in my hand I’d give it a B1+.  Janine, at the beginning of the story, is getting married that morning. She’s fussing over what she’ll do and what she’ll wear. The narrative lets us know that her intended thinks she’s thirty, when in fact, she’s thirty-four years old, a virtual spinster of the parish. The morning rolls on. He doesn’t turn up. By afternoon she begins looking for him. He’s not there, but he’s a step ahead of her. She follows the path of where he might have been and ends up where he might be. Ambiguity is the key.

In ‘Trial by Combat’ Emily Johnson is staying in a room house. Small things, like a nickel-and-dime hatpin,  from her room keep going missing. She thinks she knows the culprit, but goes at it obliquely. She asks the elderly woman that lives downstairs ‘Mrs Allen’ for her advice. Mrs Allen explains that all the keys in their rooming house are old-fashioned. They can open each of the doors in the rooming house. When Emily Johnson is found with her hand in one of the drawers of Mrs Allen’s room she has some explaining to do. I liked this one. The way it panned out.

Some of the other stories I didn’t like. I’m guessing that ‘My Life With R.H.Macy’ is autobiographical.   The narrator is asked ‘I’m in lingerie, what are you in?’ The story is an extended motif explaining why she’s not really in anything and she’s not really just another number. How ridiculous to think that way. Good idea. Shite story.

Too many of the stories I’ve read so far don’t do much for me. I’ve got to ‘The Renegade’ and won’t be plodding any further.



Are you poor? Seven questions that will determine your future

1) Does your day start with a choice between the terrible option and the dreadful option?

2) Do you know where your food bank is?

3) Have you borrowed money from a payday loan company?

4) Is what you say and what you do scripted by others?

5) Do you feel you sleep too much or too little?

6) Are you still paying off last Christmas’s bills?

7) Is a holiday something someone else takes?

If you have answered YES to two or more of these questions: WELCOME TO POORLAND. Your stay will be an extended one.poorland

Emile Zola (1885 [2004]) Germinal.

Coal miners lives were nasty, brutish and short –  that was only in the good years. In his preface Zola tells his reader that all authors are liars, but there is something like the truth between these pages that still holds true.

Zola shows how the Company makes profit from wage slavery of men, women and children. The Maheu family, for example, live in Village 240, Block 2, house Number 16. The Company owns the houses they live in. It allows a franchise in the store in which they shop and owe credit. It owns their lives and tickets out the time they will work and how much they will be paid – and it is never enough to eat, but somehow workers do, 10 000 of them that work in the local pits. The key to survival is the family unit.

Maheu is a model worker, widely respected in the Montsou colliery. He works for the Company and mines coal at a rate set by the them. He is paid three francs and employs Zacharie his twenty-one year old son, who is also paid three francs (but he has a partner who lives next door and they are parents to two children). Catherine who is fifteen, when the story begins, works as a putter, pushing the underground trolleys full of coal along a line, much like a pit pony, only cheaper and more adaptible, is paid two francs.  Maheu’s father, Bonnemort (named after the good death that has chased him all his working life) is an old man, who works above ground as a banksman. He’s fifty-eight and near retirement age, but the reader understand spitting up an ink-like soot and with dropsy and rheumatics he’ll never retire. Jenlin aged eleven makes one franc. Alzire aged nine has a hunchback and doesn’t make any money. Lenore and Elmore are too young to work. And La Maheu is nursing a baby when the novel open. She runs the family business, which is feeding her family and keeping a roof over their head. Her job is made more difficult because they start each week of their fortnightly pay with a negative. Maheu owes the shopkeeper sixty francs and lives on credit.

Maigrat, the shopkeeper, lives off the workers and expects full payment but he also expects payment in kind. He has his eye on Catherine Maheu.

Zola isn’t particularly good on sex. Mouquette aged 18, with huge breasts and buttocks is presented as an easygoing figure of fun. She has sex with it seems most of the colliers, but only at the Monsou pit. She doesn’t put out to other pit boys. She’s not easy, although she is. More than once Zola has Mouquette baring her huge buttocks as a sign of contempt. Later about half way through the book, when they are on strike, she takes in washing, because she doesn’t want to be lazy. I’m sure the other starving women and children didn’t want to be lazy either.

Catherine is raped on the spoil heap by Chaval. That’s romance for you. Chaval her lover explains: ‘She’s my woman. I can do what I bloody like with her.’ And he does. A similar thing happen in Zola’s La Terre. Rape followed by a sudden realization of love and female adoration.

Similarly, the pit boss, Hennbeau has a frigid relationship, but loves his wife despite being continually cuckolded by her. Hennebeau, on a salary thousands of times greater than his lowly workers, envies them their free love. Every time he takes his horse out he trips over lover’s trysts in the beet fields surrounding the mines.  He settles for disappointment, his wife taking the engineer Negrel, his nephew, thankful she hadn’t taken up with one of the serving class.

Zola is best on juxtaposing the haves and have nots. The things they tell each other. Mme Hennbeau, for example, takes some of her Parisian friends to visit the pit village, much in the same way visitors are taken to the zoo. She explains, ‘ “a doctor visits them twice a week; and when they’re old, they’re paid a pension even though no deduction is ever made from their wages towards it.

“It’s Eldorado! A land of milk and honey,” the gentleman muttered.’

The non-working and youngest Maheu children are examined in their natural environment.

‘“What lovely children!’ the lady in the fur coat said while thinking them perfectly frightful with their excessively large heads and their mops of straw-coloured hair.’

Zola does not preach, he contrasts. Cecile Gregoire, for example is eighteen. Her father and mother crowd round her plump form as she sleeps and the servants are amazed that she can lie in bed until nine a.m. A full twelve hours sleep.

Catherine and the other Maheu workers routinely rise at three a.m. Etienne Lantier stumbles into a job and into their lives. At first he mistakes a pubescent Catherine for a boy.

The Gregoires have a share in the Company. It was once worth one million francs but the share price has fallen. Gregoire is almost the same age as Bonnemort, but the former is content for those scuttling below ground for him and his family. It takes 10 000 Bonnemorts to make one Gregoire. Gregoire is not a bad man. He lives a chaste life and gives responsibly to the deserving poor -those that want to work. He looks benevolently on his cousin Deneulin investment in refitting another colliery with the money he had inherited, in the hope of making a large fortune. But with the world-wide slump in coal prices Gregoire is keen not to offer Deneulin any hope that he will extend him or his two daughters any credit. Deneulin had taken a chance and it failed. Gregoire had taken no chances and was content. The Company and the status quo was the surer path.

Etienne’s growing awareness of the issues involved threatens that status quo. He adapts to life underground and decides ‘to go down the mine again and to suffer and to struggle… against a squat and satiated deity’. Etienne is a flawed hero. Zola makes clear to the reader -again and again in a rather didactic way – that it was something he was born with. After the pit cave-in, for example, when he confronts Chaval underground, he was ‘seized with the need to kill, an irresistible physical need like a tickle of phlegm…It rose up and burst forth, beyond his powers to control it, under the impulse of the hereditary flaw within him…with superhuman strength, he brought it [a rock] crashing down on Chaval’s skull’.

Etienne’s walk from darkness to light is never complete. Zola takes us part of the way, but he leaves it open what happens next. History tells its own stories, but many of the themes he touches on here remain in our modern new world. Ignorance is not bliss. Neither is knowledge power, but as Zola shows, money talks loudest of all and men still dance to the same old tune.

James Meek (2014) Private Island Why Britain Now Belongs to Someone Else.

‘Greed is good’ said Gordon Gekko in Wall Street. But that was in 1987. Even then before banks were bailed out with thousands of trillions of electronic money, dollars or pounds, take your pick, greed was only good for a few. I remember the crash. Nothing changed the next day. I felt the same. I was trying to think of a new word for all the money I’d lost and figured a scudillion was good enough. After selling all my assets I was left with the chewed end of a pencil, but that was enough to write a note to myself not to be downhearted, start a new and innovative business empire.

The problem as Meek shows is there is nothing new for us to salivate over. No new shiny IPhone that does all sorts of things that you don’t need. No new car with shiny exterior and nought to sixty in the time it takes to pick your nose. Just the same old rich people stealing from poor people. How do they do it?

It’s a simple trick. Never own. Rent. Don’t own a company, rent it to the next person that wants to buy it. In the meantime, rent the money you need to buy the company that everybody wants but nobody wants to pay for and charge the person that can least afford to pay it the maximum amount.  In effect, tax the poor for the benefit of the rich.

Meek looks at a number of ‘industries’. Privatised mail. This is an easy in. Somebody somewhere has got to deliver the mail. It’s a statutory duty. Six days a week the mail has to be delivered to its destination. He looks at the Dutch and German models for privatisation. They are looking to come here. TNT pay their workers less and they work longer hours. Seems like a good deal for shareholders. Letters and parcels still get delivered. Postal workers lose out on pensions, working conditions, sick pay all the kind of things you’d expect, but hey, who gives a shit about them? The government hasn’t decided that’s the way to go, the market has and the market is alway right. Right?

In Signal Failure, Meek looks at railways. In particular he looks at the West Coast Line and how it was a scudillion over budget. The latest figure was £10.5 billion, but like most conservatives that was a conservative estimate. How did they get that figure. Well, first they sacked everybody that knew about maintenance of rail tracks. Then they hired in experts that had been watching Star Trek repeats and had magic up a new gadget that put trains in the same place at the same time, but they’re not really there. Then they float that idea on the market. Everybody buys shares. Railtrack goes bankrupt. The government steps in and says we didn’t know. Virgin Trains get paid millions for not running trains. Then they decide after a few folk are killed the signalling devices and tracks dating from the steam-train error is no longer fit for purpose. Start again.

Privatised water. This is interesting because too much water and the system grinds to a halt, too little water and…you’ve guessed it. The one consistent is that those that need it -that’s everybody- pay increased prices when either of these two conditions are met. It’s a regressive tax. There are also two ways of financing infrastructure changes. Selling shares (equity) in the company, which dilutes the price of existing shares and theoretically brings down the dividend or  borrow the money and pay interest on that payment. Borrowing means that in the future that money needs to be paid back, but hey in the meantime we’ve got scuddilions and shareholders can slap each other on the back and pay themselves increased dividends. Whoever heard of a shareholder or directors voting against giving themselves a pay rise? Meek gives us the example of Maquarie a hedge-fund attempting to purchase Thames Water with borrowed money that can be offset against the loss that they make when they start trading. Only poor people pay tax.

Meek does chapters on electricity, the NHS and privatized housing. I’m sure you get the gist of it. The rich get rich, the poor get poorer. That’s not economics, that’s ideology at work in Britain.


Linda Tirado (2014) Hand To Mouth. The Truth About Being Poor in a Wealthy World.

linda tirado

I’ve been thinking of writing a book about poverty, and the cancerous growth of agencies as middlemen that add nothing but misery, leaving the rest of us to deal with the hidden costs. It’s too big a subject. You start getting lost in minutiae. What does it mean in a changing world, for example, to be working class? What does it mean to be poor? These are relative concepts. I once asked my former best mate Liam what the girl he got off with the night before was  like. He started off by telling me she was quite nice. Then he told me she wasn’t really that nice. By the time we got to the truth we were both howling with laughter. Well, I was. Linda Tirado tells us how it is.

She does a good definition of poverty, choosing ‘between the terrible option and the dreadful option’.  That could be choosing between paying your rent or eating. Walking to work when walking back will mean missing the start of the second split-shift of the day in the other job and getting sacked. For Linda Tirado Living Hand To Mouth is a metaphor for the way she lives, but one that can also be taken literally. Tirado was in an car wreck and her mouth was smashed up. It left her in constant pain and in need of dental treatment, which she couldn’t afford. It also left her the stigmata of a poor person’s teeth, which she covered up with her hand and made her unable to eat in public or, funnily enough, tell jokes, because we signal the punch-line by laughter and, with her teeth, she wasn’t willing to do that, show herself off, like a freak.

Another mark of the poor is polyester.   If you wear a uniform and its made of polyester, you can be pretty sure that you are poor. Check your wardrobe.

Tirado tells us that roughly one-third of Americans are like her and can be classified as the working poor. Poor people talk. Nobody listens. That’s not politics. That’s life. But she’s not talking about other people. She’s telling the reader about herself, her experiences. ‘I made a lot of poor financial decisions. None of them matter in the long term. I will never not be poor.’ Poor people play safe. We have that cigarette or that drink, things within our grasp. It’s easier that way. There’s no makeover show -discounting the lottery, which is a regressive tax anyway – no holiday from being poor.

‘We start the day with a deficit.’ But sometimes that deficit is not enough to get Food Stamps or help with the rent and it’s never enough to get Health Care. Tirado is good on being the wrong kind of poor. It is not a crime-yet. But on a daily basis the law favours the rich. The poor are always suspect.  She doesn’t want to overthrow the rich, but she just wants them to be more considerate of poorer people, which is a polite way of saying be fair guys. In other words she does want to overthrow the rich. She wants those to have bleak lives to have a bit more. I’m with her on that one.

‘Poverty,’ she says ‘is when a quarter is a miracle.

‘Poor is when a dollar is a miracle.

‘Broke is when five bucks is a miracle.

‘Working class is being broke, but doing so in a place that is not so run down.’

A miracle for me is if our political masters gave a shit. Change is a revolutionary idea.


Vincent Deary (2014) How to Live, 1. How we are

puff manVincent Deary (2014) How to Live, 1. How we are


Every day is All Fools Day when you’re just being yourself. Same beginning. Then two trillion -or more- cells later, we come apart. In between we acquire a repertoire of habits. Vincent Deary’s ‘How we are’, the first in his trilogy of How to Live, picks apart what makes us ourselves. In essence, a person and their reality, make up their personality. That’s me speaking, not Deary (and what a wonderful name for a pseudo-philosopher).

I was looking for an index in his book so I could quote back some Gurdjieff,  but deary me, Deary has no index. I’m lazy, so I’ll not bother I’ll just tell you what I remember of Gurdjieff, a hazy memory of the guru making his disciples leap out of bed and assume a complicated yogic position. He was pushing them beyond themselves, to become another self. The new self is the same as the old self, but has more of a repertoire. The old new is replaced by the new you. Science is a body of knowledge but also a way of looking at the world. Scientists love baselines. Take a cyclist, measure his lung capacity, heart rate, how much the wheel turns when he cycles. Keep pushing. Establish a new you. Pick up your Olympic gold medal. Good in theory.

Most habits are incidental. Where did I put those tea-bags. We don’t think. We do. We reach for the tea-bags. When something goes wrong the process of thinking and not thinking unravels. We are creatures of habit. Deary ask difficult question of how we make ourself? And he asks the related question of how can we make ourself better. Even primordial sludge leaves a track. He follows that route that suggests we follow the path of least resistance. Our bodies are geared to react in a particular way. We run before full recognition sets in that a bear is looming out of the darkness. If the bear turns into a blanket blowing in the wind, we rationalise it. We add facts onto events, not the other way about. We rationalise it.

How to Live looks at how we accumulate and grow into seeing things in a particular way. We are not alone, he suggests. Others too have seen the bear. We prepare ourselves.

In the chapter titled ‘Second Natures’, Deary quotes from a TV show I Didn’t Know You Cared, (I’ve never heard of it) ‘What are we today Gilbert?’  What gives Deary’s book, Deary’s look at his life and the life of others force, is the examples he uses, which gives his book a chatty tone of one bloke down the pub talking to another — about something and nothing. For example he uses the film Ghostbusters (a film I’d never want to watch again, or so I thought). It’s meant to be a comedy. Near the end, Gozer, a Sumerian God is about to cross over from the supernatural realm to wipe out downtown New York. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is a moot point. Gozer’s job is destruction. The Ghostbusters’ job is salvation. And in this they have admitted failure. Gozer is coming and there is nothing they can do about it. But -and there always is – the demonic herald, while not exactly a democrat, has checked the rule book and he has to allow the protagonists, the Ghostbusters, to decide in what form Gozer the Destroyer becomes manifest. Dan Aykroyd thinks Puff Marshmallow Man. Gozer the Destroyer turns into a figure of fun. Deary’s point is that in times of transition we can and do make choices.

How do old habits become new habits? Rehearsal. We can always change our mind. We can change our heart. When choices arise we make the right one for us. If life was that simple, Deary Deary, but he doesn’t become puffed up about it.